The Art of the Decluttering Video

Screencap of a “Spring Cleaning Videos” playlist I made on YouTube.

So back in March, I was pretty psyched about getting some spring cleaning done, so I decided to psych myself by watching some decluttering videos.

Good God, that sounds lame.

But really, I was bored on my lunch break and clicked an Abundantly Minimal video that was on the front page of YouTube. That led me to something like six or seven other videos. That led me to take notes and file those notes away for a blog post … which I’m just now getting around to.

Huh. Maybe I should declutter my idea file.

Anyway, I took notes on five of those videos from four different YouTubers. At first, I thought that it would be a good way to get some ideas on what to approach next in my house. As I went on, I discovered that I was paying attention less to what or how to declutter and more attention to how the videos were made. Part of the reason for this is because they had similar advice or overlapped when it came to mentioning particular items. The other part is that they al have the same aesthetic, as if they were all working from a provided template.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise, really. I’ve watched enough YouTube to see the ways hosts put a video together, whether it’s WhatCulture, Watch Mojo, Film School Rejects, or that misogynist asshole whose video keeps posting to a Facebook group I’m on*. And I have been writing and podcasting long enough to know that formats exist**.

When it come to a video dedicated to decluttering, there are certain common elements that stand out.

The Lists. So for the most part, these videos are all in list form, which I imagine is done to get more views. It’s an old trick from blogging, and something that I hated when I had a teacher blog–your post that you worked really hard on that addressed the fundamental philosophies of teaching with significant nuance got one view while your “20 School Supplies to Buy for Your Classroom” post got 1,000. Out of the five videos that I watched, all were in a list format and three had specific numbers in their titles: “10 Things to Declutter Right Now”, “10 Things to Declutter”, and “25 Things Most People Forget to Declutter.” Again, it tricks you into thinking that the fifteen minutes you’re going to spend with these people is going to go quickly because it’s a format you’re familiar with (although unlike a blog post, you can’t skim these).

The Approach. All of these talking heads are giving you an inside tip, helping you get a leg up, or sending you into a state of panic. The latter–“10 things to Declutter RIGHT NOW” (emphasis mine)–is inadvertently panic-inducing because I think they actually want us to think these things are easy and not urgent. But they pas son the “expertise” to an audience that wants to feel smarter. I wonder how many people watching the videos feel like they are the only people to see them (despite the thousands of views) and therefore are stumbling onto some big secret. Or perhaps they feel like they are somehow friends with these people because of the way in which they “invite you into my home”, even though the entire experience is staged. We all get our affirmations somewhere.

The Fonts. If you’re watching a video that is geared toward minimalism, the font will be sans serif and usually eschews capital letters. Otherwise, you will get that ubiquitous calligraphy font that reminds us all to live, laugh, and love.

The Cadence and the Cuts. I wish I could tell you when and how the. quick. cut. that. makes. everything. look. like. Max. Headroom. became so popular on YouTube. Or why. My best guess is that it’s got something to do with keeping your attention, especially since all you’re really doing is watching someone talk at you from their living room***. The cuts aren’t jarring per se, but they get annoying when you start to see that sort of choppiness in every single video. Plus, everyone has this same tone of voice, one that is somewhere between a lecturing teacher and your bestie. I know this is rich coming from a podcaster, but I’m not a fan of the way a lot of these videos are presented because the hosts–men and women–come off as Amy Poehler’s “Cool Mom” from Mean Girls. Then again, maybe this is my age showing, as I’m cynical toward the “cool best friend” veejay.

The Sell. And, of course, ultimately what a lot of these come down to is that all of these hosts are creating their own brands. So much as they want you to believe that they’re the guy down the hall or the girl next door, they are working on crafting that image because they have monetized their channel and have also written books. It’s not as shady as, say, that MLM that a person you knew from seventh period geometry 25 years ago tries to get you to join via Facebook, but it shows the inherent smarminess of some of this. And with some of the more Minimalism-based videos, it comes off as almost cultish, as if this isn’t just a bunch of tips for cleaning out your closet but a lifestyle change, a movement to follow. I’m not a fan of isms. Isms in my opinion are good.

Now, some of the better YouTubers that I watch have actual stories to tell or their topics are a lot more diverse than efforts to suck you into some movement or repeating the same five tips everyone else gives. I do have to wonder, though, if these people will ever run out of material. And when they do, what will happen. More extreme decluttering videos? ULTRA MINIMALISM where they’re living in an empty room and sleeping on the floor in the one pair of underwear they own? An alt-right awakening where they dub themselves “#decluttergate”?

Only time will tell.

*And seriously ruining my enjoyment of the group to the point where I am close to leaving it. WE GET IT. You have a mad-on for Brie Larson.

** I teach high school English. Of course I know formats exist.

*** TED Talks at least do a few pans across the rich white people in the audience.

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